Friday, August 18, 2006

Denmark and The Roman Empire

The “Roman Ironage” in Denmark, the years 0 – 400 AD, has traditionally been largely overshadowed by the Viking period from 900 – 1200 AD. And to many danes the “Roman Ironage” is still a dark chapter in the Danish history.

But in recent years a new History of this period is being written. And a special breakthrough for the public in Denmark, was the exhibition “The Triumph of Victory” at the National Museum in Copenhagen in 2003. A special exhibition on the Danish-Roman relationships and the many Danish Bog-finds from this period.
This event, combined with many new Danish Ironage themeparks, also established through recent years, have made way for a brand new view on the South Scandinavian relations to the Roman Empire.

It would be taking it to far in this article, to go through the many finds in Denmark from this period. But its worth mentioning that many of the finds, especially from the first and second Century, are gravefinds and finds of Roman goods that clearly have been cherished by their owners. They are not prizes of war, but goods that have been traded and perhaps given to their owners. Things that appearantly show, that the danish tribes in this age, had a friendly and close relationship with Rome. A friendship wich counted trading and a wide support from the tribes to the Romans. A support that also encounted danish tribesmen participating in the Roman wars against other Germanic tribes, probably as Auxillia – supporting troops – or, in the later periods, as regular soldiers in the Roman Army.

Augustus and Tiberius
On “Monumentum Acyranum”, Augustus own descriptions of his deeds, it is told that in the year 5 AD he sent Tiberius on a major clearing expedition to the most northern parts of Germania. With a fleet from the Rhine and possibly a supporting land-army he advanced to the Cimbrian Peninsula, and made peace agreements with the local tribes there.
This first official contact with the “danes*”, since the Cimbrian and Teutonian migrations in 150 BC shows, that there appearantly was an active interest in Rome in an annexation of the southern parts of Scandinavia into the Roman Empire.
But this interest was brutally stopped in year 9 AD, when the Roman General Quintillius Publius Varus was beaten in a Germanic ambush in Teutoburgerwald at Kalkriese in Germany. At this battle 3 Roman Legions were anihilated; Approx. 30.000 men.

The mission for Varus was to prepare the advance of the Imperial border to the River Elb. But after this major loss, the Romans resignated and gave up any further offensives beyond the Rhine, and the northern border of the Empire stayed at the Rhine.

*(The names “Danes” and “Denmark” first appeared in 800 AD, before that a multitude of tribal names was used for the citizens of the Cimbrian Peninsula and the Danish Isles. Among these tribes were Teutones and Cimbrians, names that still is found in present day places like “Thy” (Teuto) and “Himmerland” (Cimberland), both locations in Jutland).

Trading and Alliances
Though the plans for the northern germanic territories were abandoned by the Romans,
it seems that a broad contact were established between the Romans and the tribes of Southern Scandinavia. Especially famous is the trading expeditions to the Baltic, for Amber to Emperor Neros palace after the burning of Rome in 64. This palace were later demolished by Vespasian, and he and his sons Titus and Domitian erected the Colloseum at its place.
The finds in Denmark from this period is really interesting. Especially the great gravefinds from Himlingoje on Southern Zealand, Gudme on Funen and the rich Hoby graves from Lolland. In this large find, a wide range of Roman officers equipment were found. And especially two Silver Cups from Hoby are of great interest.

Not only because of their superb quality, but also because of the name “Silius” wich is ingraved in the buttom of the Cups.
This “Silius” appears to be the Roman Commander who were stationed with the Rhine Army in the years 14 – 21, with the purpose to find the locations for the Varus disaster and conduct punitive expeditions in to the Elb-german territories.
If Silius is the former owner of the Hoby Cups, the idea that danish tribes were hired as Auxilia to the Romans seems obvious. Wich also explains the many other finds of Roman military equipment in Denmark from this period. For instance a beautyful 1st Century Pugio found in a grave near Horsens in Jutland.

Together with this Pugio, was also a Roman style Hamata and a Roman military Balteus and other personal equipment.
A find that appearantly show the presence of Roman military activities in Denmark, or “danes” that served with the Roman Army.

Finds all over Southern Scandinavia, of especially Fibulas, indicates that a small “Empire” were present here in the first and second Century. With a “Himlingoje Dynasty” as rulers. This “Dynasty” not only traded with Rome, but appearantly also lived a very “Roman” style of life.
If there were such an “Empire”, it is obvious that the Romans could benefit from this, and seek alliances with this regime. Alliances that today, is discribed as Denmark beeing a “Client State” of Rome. A supportive territory for the Romans where they traded and recruited Auxillia and soldiers for the wars down South.

Marcus Aurelius and the Marcomannic wars
As Client States the tribes north of the Danube had traditionally been a very peaceful territory for the Romans. But in the 150’s this area was destabilized by a range of migrations from the north, pressing the Marcomanians, the Quades and the Sarmatians downwards against the Roman Danube border in the present Czech Republic.
Regular wars between some of these tribes and the Romans broke out in the year 166 AD, in the fifth year of Marcus Aurelius as Emperor. And they didn’t end before 180, in the time of Commodus. (The background for the movie “Gladiator”).

Today there is no doubt, that also South Scandinavians participated in these wars. Gravefinds from Müsov in Mähren indicate this, with the finds of jewelry and fibulas that are obvious Scandinavian. And in Himlingoje two Roman silvercups, showing Roman soldiers with “Ringgrib” swords, were found. These Roman Gladii had their prime in the Marcomanian Wars. Also the find of a gold Kolb Torch in Himlingoje is evidence of a “danish” participation. The Kolb Torch were a sign of dignity among the Sarmatians. The Sarmatians participated in the wars on the Roman side. Wich indicates, that also the “danish contingents” were on the Roman side.

That the Roman – South Scandinavian relationsship were well established and continiued on to the 4-5 century is indicated by the many finds from this period. Most of all by the great Bog-finds from 300 – 500 AD. Among these is the Illerup finds and the Thorsbjerg finds, wich counts the largest finds of Roman weapons in the World.
These weapons was not in use by the Romans themselves, but blades produced in Roman Fabricas and purchased by the Scandinavians in the Roman Empire.
That Roman Merchants sailed the waters of South Scandinavia for several centuries are clear. Worth mentioning are the Egyptian Geografer Klaudios Ptolemaios travel descriptions from the 2. Century, wich describes the naval route from The Rhine around Jutland and through the Danish sea of Isles to the coast of Poland. A route, also described by many other Roman Scribes, Tacitus. A route appearantly commonly used by the Romans.
It appears, by the writings of Marcus Aurelius, that it was his plan to establish two new provinces north of the Danube. The provinces Marcomannia and Sarmatia. And thus, push the border of the Roman Empire to the Baltic.
In such an enterprise, the Romans would have to have good and loyal “Clients”
In South Scandinavia and the ”danish territories”. And it now appears that they had just that.

Pictures: 1. The Hoby Cups, from The National Museum, Copenhagen. 2. The Hedegaard Pugio and its reconstruction, from Horsens Museum. 3. The Hedegaard Hamata (mail armour) from Horsens Museum.


Blogger special4u said...

Excellent site

3:28 AM  
Blogger Stickshopen said...

As an old soldier of the Empire before I moved to Sweden I am delighted to find a group such as yours in Scandinavia. I will follow your movements with interest!

Adcobravatus Coccius
Miles - Cohors Tungrorum Primus
(The Ermine Street Guard - UK)

7:32 AM  

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